Cultural changes since 1989:
In the 29 years since Ken Myers wrote this book, I believe that pretty much all of his conclusions are more true now than they were in 1989. The main thesis of his book is that philosophically, modernism with its prioritizing of man and his feelings in the search for the New, bred the rise of a pop culture which has appealed to the worst in man’s sinful nature. Pop culture breeds impatience, novelty seeking, instant gratification, instant credit, the self, etc. and in 2018 with post-modernism in full swing, this has gotten even more true. Post-modernism is like modernism but without any sense of objective truth or shared cultural heritage!
And not only this, but materially and technologically, it has become even easier to be addicted to pop culture. Instead of a television, we have a flat screen with internet access, “streaming” an entire season of a show immediately. Instead of a telephone at your house or in your car, we have a computer we put in our pockets that we take with us everywhere. Instead of pornography in a magazine, it has become one of the largest videos-based industries in the world, all accessible from your phone. Myers’ comments about the TV are doubly true now.
More recently, we have seen a breakup in the news industry as people have lost trust in their news sources. While some of this can be good, because it is usually not good to monopolize any one industry, it is a symptom of the fragmented nature of information in today’s age, where people can exist in two completely different realities because they imbibe news and information from two different viewpoints (most noticeably politics, but also religion) and this makes the idealogical search for truth even harder. Aldous Huxley was right–The problem is not lack of information, it is that we are drowning in it, with no ability to know true from false.
Book Summary of All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes
Myers begins by asking his readers to take into account how much of popular culture has invaded their homes, and how much of it, medium and content, they have around them. How much is it influencing them without them knowing? The main theme of his book is that not everything in popular culture that is permissible is constructive, and much of popular culture today is watered down and instant, much like the bad coffee he had gotten used to in college. Once addicted to lower forms of culture, it can be hard to appreciate the higher forms, but it is worth the struggle.
Myers begins his book by stating that many Christians feel like they are like Lot living in Sodom. The culture around them is against them. He then details the main point of his chapter: Unfortunately, to combat this, Christians have compromised by being “of the world, but not in the world” (pg. 18). They have created alternative music, movies, shows, etc. and christianized them, but left them basically secular. Oftentimes these cultural products are popular only because they are like the “real” secular thing they copied. Myers questions the usefulness of this “contextualization” because it seems to be hurting more than it is helping. Sometimes Christians tend to believe that if something is popular, it is working. After all, if an evangelist brings lots of people to Christ, his method must be sound, right? Not all culture is good even though it is popular.
In chapter two, Myers briefly defends why we should engage in culture, and then defines it. Per C.S. Lewis, people should engage in culture basically because to live and move is to be a cultural animal. Thus, the question is not if, but how well we do culture, and what culture we engage in and consume. Briefly defined, Culture is “A dynamic pattern, an ever-changing matrix of objects, artifacts, sounds, institutions…” etc.
In chapter three, Myers recounts the creation account, the original creation mandate, the fall, and the seed of the gospel given in Genesis 3. He connects this information to the idea of our cultural duty in creation and Noah’s similar command given in Genesis 9, though this command (covenant) had a more temporal nature, and was also given to creation–Myers’ point is that it was not given to a special people. The Adamic and Noah covenants were ecumenical covenants, and they inform the cultural details of the New Covenant, not the mosaic covenant. The goal is not to strive for another Israel and create a holy, segregated culture. The goal is to impact the common culture that you find yourself in, be it American, Greek, Russian, etc.
In chapter four, Myers suggests that even though we aren’t called to set up a new, holy culture, we do have a duty to abstain from “its profanities.” The main point of this chapter was that modern, pop culture appeals to the novel seeker in all of us, and trains us to be impatient. The market for this arose because of the advances of the economy (leading to previously unknown leisure time) and advances in technology (that made the consumption of media and the spending of money instant).
Continuing this theme of the restless and instant, in chapter five Myers also elaborates on how popular art has contributed to the cheapening of high art, and thus beauty. He posits that beauty is objective, and taste, while having variations, is also more objective than popular art provides for. Not all tastes are equal, because not all tastes and pleasures are equally good. Aside from being objectively worse than high art, popular art is also safe. It is predictable to the consumer, never challenging them, again, appealing to the baser desires in us.
In chapter six, Myers looks at a work of C.S. Lewis on Literary criticism, specifically on the question: “What makes a good book?” His alternative method was to look at the reader rather than the book itself, and then judge the book by the types of people that read them. He distinguished between unliterary and literary readers, and one of the best way to tell between them was those who read for joy, and those who read for work.
In chapters seven and eight Myers discusses the “twenty year decade” of the 1960’s and the introduction of pop art, which subsequently took over and corrupted high art. Once high art became pop art, art itself began to disappear. Without a common basis for aesthetics, art is everything, and then it is nothing. Romanticism and modernism helped encourage this attitude of feelings-first towards art and the central-ness of the human interpretation of art, rather than the appreciation of something objectively beautiful.
Myers closes his book by talking about how television has fitted the description of popular art quite well: it is easy to consume, it appeals to the masses, it discourages deep thinking, and it offers immediate gratification. Thus it is an apt medium for music videos, tv, and other parts of culture. In the last chapter, he closes with some advice for parents, teachers, and pastors, basically urging them not to ride the stream of popular culture, or be overcome by it, but to conform to Christ. He compares pop culture to meat offered to idols: It is not bad to eat it, but it is bad to make it your idol.